Day 5 Meditation
For today’s practice, we’ll zoom into an key moment in meditation practice, the moment you that you realize you have been distracted. This is a magic moment because it is the moment we have the chance to be really different, and not judge ourselves, not condemn ourselves, but simply let go and begin again.
You may be surprised to discover how you actually speak to yourself in this moment, because often it isn’t very kind. Remember that if you have to let go and begin again a thousand times in one sitting, that is not an indicator that you are doing anything wrong. That’s not a roadblock to the practice – that is the practice. That’s life: starting over, one breath at a time.
Meditation isn’t a religion. You don’t have to be a Buddhist or Hindu; you can meditate and still practice your own religion or no religion at all. Ben, the soldier who meditated while he was serving in Iraq, told me he thought the practice would help him stay in touch with his Christian values. The techniques you’ll learn this month can be done within any faith tradition. They can also be done in an entirely secular way.
Question & Answer
Q: When I practice, I start out feeling okay and am in a good zone, but then things change and I fell like I’m back to square one again and I can’t concentrate at all. Will I ever make progress?
A: My early meditation practice was extremely painful, physically and emotionally. But then I went through a phase of experiencing real delight. I would sit, follow my breath, and feel as if I were floating in the air, my mind serene. Oh, I would think, isn’t it going to be wonderful living the entire rest of my life in this lovely state? But then my knee would start hurting, or my back would ache, or I’d feel restless or sleepy, and I’d chastise myself: What did you do wrong to make that beautiful, extraordinary state go away?
In fact, it didn’t go away because I did anything wrong: It went away because everything goes away. Every sensation, every emotion, is changing all of the time. Each experience, however intense, is ephemeral. All of life is transitory. Observing the ebb and flow of thoughts and feelings teaches us to embrace this truth. Square one isn’t such a bad place to be. Any meditation, even one in which you catch yourself getting distracted, or feeling bad, is a useful one.
Welcome back. In this exercise, we’ll pay particular attention to the moment when we realized we’ve been distracted or lost. Where I’ve gone far away from the feeling of the breath. We say that the moment you realize you’ve been distracted is the magic moment. Because that’s the moment we have the chance to be really different and not judge ourselves, not condemn ourselves, but simply let go and begin again.
You can sit comfortably, close your eyes or not, however you feel most at ease, and let your tensions settle on the place where the breath is most predominate, nostrils, chest, or abdomen. You can bring our attention to that area and just rest. Feeling one breath at a time. If something arises, sensations, emotions, memories, fantasies, plans, whatever it might be, that’s strong enough to take your attention away from the feeling of the breath, or if you’ve fallen asleep.
Notice how you speak to yourself as you prepare to let go and begin again. If it’s in a harsh, judgmental voice, see if you can soften it. It is actually with kindness toward ourselves rather than condemning ourselves that we make the most progress. It doesn’t matter how many times your attention wonders or how long you may dwell in distraction. It also doesn’t matter where your attention has wondered to. Our goal is to let go gently. And, with growing kindness toward ourselves, be able to begin again. And, when you feel ready, you can open your eyes.
This moment, after we have noticed that we have wandered, we’ve been distracted, we’ve been scattered – this is such a crucial moment, where we practice letting go, and we practice beginning again. See if you can bring some awareness of kindness toward yourself into your day. You can notice if you speak to yourself differently when you’re at home, than when you’re at work for example. See which times of day you find it easiest and when you find it most challenging to bring kindness toward yourself.